Randy Wittman

is who

Maurice Cheeks

might have been.

Wittman is the head coach with the .143 winning percentage, the shell-shocked team full of youngsters and the prospect of help in some distant year, from some kid who's probably in 11th grade right now.

While the Sixers, to their credit, have continued to play competitive basketball most nights after trading their star, and are still near .500 in the Eastern Conference, Wittman's Minnesota Timberwolves, after dealing Kevin Garnett to Boston, have the league's worst record (4-24), their weaknesses picked at nightly by older, more experienced, better teams in a better conference.

The Timberwolves have lost 10 games by 10 or more points. They're not drawing flies to the Target Center. Practices become a stop-and-start process, as Wittman must explain simple concepts again and again to his young team. Wittman has had to undergo back surgery this season as well.

"Just as long as we understand where we're trying to go, that's the main thing," Wittman said last week, after taking yet another pounding. "As a coach, you don't have any control over that. You hope that everybody has the big picture in mind here of what we're trying to do. But I also know that it happens the other way, too."

He sounds a lot like Doc Rivers did the last few years in Boston. Rivers had many of these same kids, like forwards Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes, and guard Sebastian Telfair, and he pulled out what little hair he had trying to make them into a cohesive unit.

"We've got to figure out who we want to go forward with, and that's what we're doing," Wittman said. "You can't keep seven young guys."

Still, Wittman has been assured by Minnesota GM Kevin McHale that he won't be judged on wins and losses, that the important thing is developing Jefferson and rookie guard Corey Brewer until the cavalry comes. (It hasn't helped that ex-Villanova guard Randy Foye has missed the whole season with a stress fracture in his left kneecap.)

If the Garnett trade is to make any sense for Minnesota down the road, Jefferson - who signed a $65 million extension with the Wolves in October - has to become a star.

"Right now, it's the first time he's probably been in a lot of games down the stretch, two minutes to go," Wittman said. "We're trying to learn to see, and work him into being a go-to player. Can he handle that? Can he do that? Can he handle a double team? These are all new things that are being given to him. So those are the things we're trying to gauge his growth on."

Wittman, who took over when Minnesota fired Dwane Casey last season, went into this job with both eyes open; he had a similar experience with the pre-LeBron James Cavaliers (62-102 in two seasons). But he's talked to other coaches, such as his former coach at Indiana, Bob Knight, about rebuilding.

"He said, 'Do your job,' " Wittman recalled. "He said, 'You've got to prepare those kids every day. . . . Make sure they know that you're working your [rear end] off for them.' "